The Cleveland Browns haven't even played a regular-season game yet, but that hasn't stopped reckless speculation regarding the team's head coach. Over the last week, people from both the national and local media have put a spotlight on Kevin Stefanski's job security heading into the 2023 campaign.
Though there's a whole season to be played, and Stefanski isn't on an incredibly hot seat at the moment, pundits are already salivating over the idea of current Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh taking over in Cleveland.
Jim Harbaugh Browns Rumors
ESPN's Harry Douglas was the first to publicly float this idea on "Get Up!" (which also got the attention of Browns QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson's mom). Douglas said Cleveland is a "situation" he'll watch for Harbaugh since his physical style of football — which includes an emphasis on defense and running backs — perfectly suits the team's current roster.
That's just one talking head's outside opinion. However, local voice Tony Rizzo also linked the Browns and the Michigan HC on Tuesday, claiming he's "already hearing rumblings" about the pair joining forces if Stefanski underperforms in 2023.
While these early Harbaugh-Browns rumors appear to a mere connecting of the dots, rather than having much substance, there's reason to believe they'll continue.
This is a huge year for not only Stefanski, but the franchise as a whole. The Watson era officially starts now, and ownership will be incredibly eager to see the results from its massive investment into the former Pro Bowler. That puts ups pressure on Stefanski and his staff, even if they didn't want to hand Watson a $230 million guaranteed contract.
GM Andrew Berry has shown a sense of urgency to things around after a down 2022 campaign as well by making several splashy deals this offseason. Trading for Elijah Moore and Za'Darius Smith, plus signing the likes of Dalvin Tomlinson, Juan Thornhill and Ogbo Okoronkwo are all moves with the focus on winning right now.
These additions set the stage for a turnaround season, so anything but will make Stefanski's seat even warmer after two sub-.500 campaigns. If the team goes on a losing skid, or the new pieces don't pay off, he'll be the likely fall man to keep Berry's job safe, even if he did help snap the franchise's playoff drought.
Ownership will certainly have contingency plans prepared if the season doesn't go as planned, and it'd be no surprise if Harbaugh is included in those. After all, Jimmy Haslam admitted that he approached he approached the San Francisco 49ers about a potential trade for the coach after the 2013 season.
The line of base interest is already clearly established here. Harbaugh's continued to succeed at the collegiate level as well, showing the ability to seamlessly transfer his hard-nosed approach over to each coaching stop and win.
His current contract also features a buyout clause that decreased to $2.25 million in 2023, and will go down another $750K by Jan. 11 of next year, making an exit not that difficult to pull off.
Harbaugh is the exact kind of leader the Browns would want to help them reach their championship aspirations if Stefanski doesn't prove up to the job. Though there's dozens upon dozens things that would have to unfold throughout the rest of 2023 to make this become a reality, there's no denying the possibility.
It's on Stefanski now to quiet this noise and show he's the man to trust with this Super Bowl hopeful.
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